A cup of coffee is sitting on an office desk welcoming an employee back to work.
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Survey says two-thirds of Irish bosses plan to stagger return to office

17 Jul 2020

Business leaders are planning staggered returns, smaller workgroups and shifted hours as staff come back to the office, according to a survey from Robert Walters.

In a new survey of business leaders from recruitment company Robert Walters, two-thirds of those in Ireland said they are planning a staggered return to the office.

The company surveyed a total of nearly 2,200 C-suite professionals, directors, business owners and hiring and HR managers globally in May 2020 about their business continuity plans in response to Covid-19.

In terms of respondents in Ireland, 62pc said they are planning to stagger returning to the office based on employee health risks. Nearly half (49pc) of Irish business leaders said the would stagger employee returns based on how critical their roles are to the business, while 46pc said they would create smaller workgroups, 41pc cited voluntary return schemes, and 35pc said they would change work hours to avoid busy commutes or split shifts for employees.

A third (32pc) of respondents said they will base how and when they return to the office on local infection rates. However, 29pc said they haven’t thought about their return-to-work strategies yet.

Robert Walters Ireland director Suzanne Feeney said that “despite the success of home working, employers are keen to start encouraging their staff back into the workplace and are happy to take necessary steps and put procedures in place to help enable this”.

“A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of home life and a reinforcement of company values,” she added.

“What employers need to do is merge the perks of office life with what people have been enjoying about working from home, for example: flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere and avoidance of busy commute times.”

Working life after Covid-19

However, Irish companies will also need to take into account the fact that many employees may want to keep working from home after the pandemic.

The vast majority (93pc) of Irish employees surveyed said they would like more remote working opportunities after the return to office, with 11pc saying they’d prefer to work from home full-time. On the employer side, 79pc of respondents said that the experiences they’ve had with Covid-19 will encourage them to allow employees to work from home more often.

Along with greater opportunities to work remotely, business leaders also said that they plan to save on costs by reducing office space (50pc) and minimising travel budgets by switching to virtual meetings (47pc).

“It is too early to tell whether cost-saving tactics will result in a reduction in salaries or bonuses, but any freeze of the sort will likely be compensated by the increase in softer benefits such as flexi-hours, wellbeing perks and remote working,” Feeney added.

Businesses may also plan to save money in recruitment, with 56pc of Irish leaders surveyed saying they plan to keep hosting virtual interviews and 61pc continuing with onboarding new staff remotely.

Adapting to changing workplace needs

When asked about adapting leadership skills to meet the evolving needs of employees, three-quarters of leaders surveyed said that their senior team wasn’t equipped to manage remote teams.

Managers will need to be trained, they said, in the following areas: being more empathetic to work-life balance (81pc), focusing on outcomes instead of work hours (69pc), improving virtual communication skills (61pc), better understanding mental health and wellbeing of staff (44pc) and creating a more collaborative environment (33pc).

“It can be daunting for companies who have been going through a difficult period to consider spending money on their physical workspace, technical infrastructure or general operations,” Feeney said.

“However, those who have been through previous periods of economic turbulence will know that investment at the early stages is crucial to remaining competitive and retaining good staff.

“We’d advise all employers to undergo a period of consultation with their staff to ascertain what they believe the future of their workplace and industry is going to be.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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